Sarasota School Board candidates talk school security and politics

For some, Tiger Bay forum provides first public exposure before Aug. 28 primary

Voters had their first chance to see many of the Sarasota School Board candidates in the same room during a Sarasota Tiger Bay Club candidate forum Thursday evening.

With three School Board members up for re-election, including the only Democrat on the board and School Board chairwoman Bridget Ziegler, the Aug. 28 primary could have significant implications for the board’s makeup and its decision-making based on who gets elected.

Four candidates are running for the District 5 seat, the southernmost area of the school district that encompasses parts of Venice, North Port and Englewood. So far, District 5?s race is the most crowded. Only two candidates — an incumbent and their opponent — are running in Districts 1 and in District 4. The Tiger Bay Club will hold another candidate forum on June 21 with incumbents Shirley Brown and Bridget Ziegler and their opponents, political newcomers Karen Rose and Nick Guy.

Four months after the school shooting that killed 17 in Parkland and spawned sweeping state legislation requiring an armed guard in every school, school security was the primary topic of interest during Thursday’s conversation. Some candidates were critical of the district’s recent decision to move toward an internal police department rather than partner with local law enforcement to place officers in each school, as they have with middle and high schools in past years.

“I personally believe that this function is best handled by our law enforcement agencies,” said substitute teacher and School Board candidate Richard Linden. “It’s not for the board to be creating its own general security force and remove that partnership.”

At his statement, some of the audience members clapped. The internal police department has received mixed reviews from community members, some of whom have expressed concern at the speed of the venture by getting 21 deputies and a police chief on the ground by August. Local police chiefs and Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight have said in previous interviews that they felt the district was not clearly communicating with them.

As one of the board’s three firm supporters of the internal police department, Goodwin defended her position Thursday.

“Safety and security is the most important thing for us on the School Board. It’s non-negotiable, it’s the very best that we can provide,” Goodwin said. “We are very much ahead of a lot of other counties in what we’re doing, but we can never be safe enough.”

Both former teacher Pamela Gavette and North Port Charter Review Advisory Board member Justin Cody Willis, also a former teacher, advocated for continued partnerships with local law enforcement. When asked in a quick, lightning…

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